FBI, experts warn sextortion now targeting teenage boys

Months after a Michigan teen killed himself over a sextortion plot, federal agents and tech experts said the danger of this kind of crime is growing.

"Well it’s actually been going up for the last several years. And we’ve seen an increase in a lot of crimes since COVID," said Larry Magid, a tech expert and CEO of ConnectSafely.

Magid has decades of experience tracking trends and pitfalls of the on-line world. He’s sounding an alarm about a recently-released San Francisco FBI alert. It warns sextortion is now targeting teenage boys 14-to-17 years of age as its primary victims.

In a statement, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Sean Ragan wrote in part, "These crimes have had devastating effects on children and their families…We need to disrupt these criminals by making potential victims and their parents aware of the sextortion threat."

Agents believe overseas criminals trick unsuspecting teens into sending nude pictures. Then, demand money, or threaten to release the pictures on social media.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, this kind of crime had historically targeted young girls.

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"It is changing a little bit now, yeah. Ah, as times change, unfortunately people who engage in this type of activity are looking for different consumers if you will to ah try and entrap. And get involved in this situation," said Prof. Bobby McDonald, a criminal justice expert at the Univ. of New Haven.

Experts have said, often, those perpetrating sextortion scams will threaten to release compromising material even after their demands are met.

"Now you’re gonna go to your mom’s wallet and give me her credit card and give me the pin number on the back. And if you don’t your sport your church are all gonna see what you just did," retired Illinois police detective Rich Wistocki said back in May. Added Magid, "And even though most teenagers don’t have access to a lot of money, even if only two or three hundred dollars, to these criminals, that’s significant."

Experts stress parents must have uncomfortable conversations with their teens about the dangers of sextortion, so that a young person’s feelings of embarrassment don’t escalate to feelings of despair, and possibly, suicide.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on Twitter @JesseKTVU and Instagram @jessegontv